Skip to main content Accessibility help

A Systems Comparison of Contrasting Organic Weed Management Strategies

  • Bryan Brown (a1) and Eric R. Gallandt (a1)


Weed management strategies differ in their ability to control weeds, and often have unique agroecological implications. To provide growers with an improved sense of trade-offs between weed control and ecological effects, we implemented several prominent organic weed management strategies in yellow onion in 2014 and 2015. Strategies included cultivation of weed seedlings during the early, weed-sensitive “critical period” of the crop; frequent cultivation events to ensure “zero seed rain”; and weed suppression with polyethylene or natural mulches. As expected, end-of-season weed biomass and weed seed production were greatest in the critical period system and nearly zero for the zero seed rain system. Weeds were also well controlled in natural mulch systems. Average onion yield per treatment was 50.7 Mg ha−1. In 2014, the critical period system and the polyethylene mulch systems demonstrated yield loss, likely due to weed competition and excessive soil temperature, respectively. Onion soluble solids content was also diminished in these systems in 2014, but bulb firmness was greatest in unmulched systems. Carabid beetles, earthworms, soil compaction, soil nitrate, and microbial biomass were affected by weed management strategy, with natural-mulched systems generally performing most favorably. However, these effects were not substantial enough to affect yield of a subsequent sweet corn crop grown in weed-free conditions. In contrast, sweet corn managed with only early-season cultivations demonstrated yield loss (P=0.004) in plots where the critical period treatment was implemented the prior year, indicating that weed competition resulting from abundant weed seed production in that system was the most influential legacy effect of the weed management strategies.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author’s E-mail:


Hide All

Associate Editor for this paper: Martin M. Williams II, USDA–ARS.



Hide All
Abu-Awwad, AM (1999) Irrigation water management for efficient water use in mulched onion. J Agron Crop Sci 183:17
Akaike, H (1974) A new look at the statistical model identification. Trans Auto Control 19:716723
Amaral, DSSL, Venzon, M, dos Santos, HH, Sujii, ER, Schmidt, JM, Harwood, JD (2016) Non-crop plant communities conserve spider populations in chili pepper agroecosystems. Biol Control 103:6977
Anderson, J M, Ingram, JSI (1989) Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility: A Handbook of Methods. Wallingford, UK: CAB International. Pp 101102
Anisuzzaman, M, Ashrafuzzaman, M, Ismail, MR, Uddin, MK, Rahim, MA (2009) Planting time and mulching effect on onion development and seed production. Afr J Biotechnol 8:412416
Bengough, AG, Young, IM (1993) Root elongation of seedling peas through layered soil of different penetration resistances. Plant Soil 149:129139
Birthisel, SK, Gallandt, ER, Jabbour, R (2014) Habitat effects on second-order predation of the seed predator Harpalus rufipes and implications for weed seedbank management. Biol Control 70:6572
Birthisel, SK, Gallandt, ER, Jabbour, R, Drummond, FA (2015) Habitat and time are more important predictors of weed seed predation than space in a Maine USA mixed vegetable agroecosystem. Weed Sci 63:916927
Box, GEP, Cox, DR (1964) An analysis of transformations. J R Stat Soc Series B 26:211252
Brewster, JL (2008) Onions and Other Vegetable Alliums. 2nd edn. Wallingford, UK: CAB International. Pp 173176
Browning, GM, Norton, RA, Collins, EV, Wilson, HA (1944) Tillage practices in relation to soil and water conservation and crop yields in Iowa. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 9:241247
Crowder, DW, Jabbour, R (2014) Relationships between biodiversity and biological control in agroecosystems: current status and future challenges. Biol Control 75:817
DeDecker, JJ, Masiunas, JB, Davis, AS, Flint, CG (2014) Weed management practice selection among Midwest U.S. organic growers. Weed Sci 62:520531
Duiker, SW (2002) Diagnosing Soil Compaction Using a Penetrometer (Soil Compaction Tester). Agronomy Facts 63. PennState Cooperative Extension. 4 p
Edwards, CA, Lofty, JR (1977) Biology of Earthworms. 2nd edn. London, UK and New York, NY: Chapman & Hall and Wiley. Pp 118119
Forcella, F (2003) Debiting the seedbank: priorities and predictions. Asp Appl Biol 69:151162
Gallandt, ER (2014) Weed management in organic farming. Pages 6386 in Chauhan BS, Mahajan G, eds. Recent Advances in Weed Management. New York: Springer
Gallandt, ER, Molloy, T, Lynch, RP, Drummond, FA (2005) Effect of cover-cropping system on invertebrate seed predation. Weed Sci 53:6976
Govaerts, B, Fuentes, M, Mezzalama, M, Nicol, JM, Deckers, J, Etchevers, JD, Figueroa-Sandoval, B, Sayre, KD (2007) Infiltration, soil moisture, root rot and nematode populations after 12 years of different tillage, residue and crop rotation managements. Soil Tillage Res 94:209219
Grundy, AC, Mead, A, Burston, S (1999) Modelling the effect of cultivation on seed movement with application to the prediction of weed seedling emergence. J Appl Ecol 36:663678
Hill, DE, Hankin, L, Stephens, GR (1982) Mulches: Their Effect on Fruit Set, Timing and Yields of Vegetables. New Haven, CT: Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 805. 8 p
Hopp, H, Hopkins, HT (1946) Earthworms as a factor in the formation of water-stable soil aggregates. J Soil Water Conserv 1:1113
Hummel, JW, Ahmad, IS, Newman, SC, Sudduth, KA, Drummond, ST (2004) Simultaneous soil moisture and cone index measurement. Trans Am Soc Agric Eng 47:607618
Islam, KR, Weil, RR (2000) Soil quality indicator properties in mid-Atlantic soils as influenced by conservation management. J Soil Water Conserv 55:6978
Jabbour, R, Gallandt, ER, Zwickle, S, Wilson, RS, Doohan, D (2014a) Organic farmer knowledge and perceptions are associated with on-farm weed seedbank densities in northern New England. Weed Sci 62:338349
Jabbour, R, Zwickle, S, Gallandt, ER, Mcphee, KE, Wilson, RS, Doohan, D (2014b) Mental models of organic weed management: comparison of New England US farmer and expert models. Renew Agr Food Syst 29:319333
Knezevic, SZ, Evans, SP, Blankenship, EE, Van Acker, RC, Lindquist, JL (2002) Critical period for weed control: the concept and data analysis. Weed Sci 50:773786
Kruskal, WH, Wallis, WA (1952) Use of ranks in one-criterion variance analysis. J Am Stat Assoc 47(260):583621
Larentzaki, E, Plate, J, Nault, BA, Shelton, AM (2008) Impact of straw mulch on populations of onion thrips (Thysanoptera: Thripidae) in onion. J Econ Entomol 101:13171324
Larsen, T, Saxena, A, Cramer, CS (2009) Relatedness of bulb firmness to other attributes of New Mexico onion entries. Int J Veg Sci 15:206217
McCallum, J, Clarke, A, Pither-Joyce, M, Shaw, M, Butler, R, Brash, D, Scheffer, J, Sims, I, Vanheusden, S, Shigyo, M, Havey, MJ (2006) Genetic mapping of a major gene affecting onion bulb fructan content. Theor Appl Genet 112:958967
Menges, RM, Tamez, S (1981) Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus L) interference in onions. Weed Sci 29:641647
Nieto, HJ, Brondo, MA, Gonzales, JT (1968) Critical periods of the crop growth cycle for competition from weeds. PANS (C) 14:159166
Norris, R (1999) Ecological implications of using thresholds for weed management. J Crop. Prod 2:3158
Rasmussen, KJ (1999) Impact of ploughless soil tillage on yield and soil quality: a Scandinavian review. Soil Till Res 53:314
Roberts, HA, Feast, PM (1972) Fate of seeds of some annual weeds in different depths of cultivated and undisturbed soil. Weed Res 12:316324
Robertson, GP, Gross, KL, Hamilton, SK, Landis, DA, Schmidt, TM, Snapp, SS, Swinton, SM (2014) Farming for ecosystem services: an ecological approach to production agriculture. BioScience 64:404415
Samson, R, Legendre, JB, Christen, R, Fischer-LeSaux, M, Achouak, W, Gardan, L (2005) Transfer of Pectobacterium chrysanthemi (Burkholder et al. 1953) Brenner et al. 1973 and Brenneria paradisiaca to the genus Dickeya gen. nov. as Dickeya chrysanthemi comb. nov. and Dickeya paradisiaca comb. nov. and delineation of four novel species, Dickeya dadantii sp. nov., Dickeya dianthicola sp. nov., Dickeya dieffenbachiae sp. nov. and Dickeya zeae sp. nov. Int J Syst Evol Micr 55:14151427
Schonbeck, MW (1998) Weed suppression and labor costs associated with organic, polyethylene, and paper mulches in small-scale vegetable production. J Sustain Agr 13:1333
Schonbeck, MW (2012) Organic Mulching Materials for Weed Management. Accessed: March 1, 2014
Schonbeck, MW, Evanylo, GK (1998a) Effects of mulches on soil properties and tomato production I. Soil temperature, soil moisture and marketable yield. J Sustain Agr 13:5581
Schonbeck, MW, Evanylo, GK (1998b) Effects of mulches on soil properties and tomato production II. Plant-available nitrogen, organic matter input, and tilth-related properties. J Sustain Agr 13:83100
Shock, CC, Jensen, LB, Hobson, JH, Seddigh, M, Shock, BM, Saunders, LD, Stieber, TD (1999) Improving onion yield and market grade by mechanical straw application to irrigation furrows. HortTech 9:251253
Teasdale, JR, Mohler, CL (1993) Light transmittance, soil temperature, and soil moisture under residue of hairy vetch and rye. Agron J 85:673680
Teasdale, JR, Mohler, CL (2000) The quantitative relationship between weed emergence and the physical properties of mulches. Weed Sci 48:385392
Thomas, CFG, Brown, NJ, Kendall, DA (2006) Carabid movement and vegetation density: implications for interpreting pitfall trap data from split-field trials. Agric Ecosyst Environ 113:5161
Tindall, JA, Beverly, RB, Radcliffe, DE (1991) Mulch effect on soil properties and tomato growth using micro-irrigation. Agron J 83:10281034
van Toor, RF, Till, CM, James, DE, Teulon, DAJ (2004) Evaluation of UV reflective mulches for protection against thrips (Thrips tabaci) in onion (Allium cepa) crops. NZ Plant Prot 57:209213
Waggoner, PE, Miller, PM, DeRoo, HC (1960) Plastic Mulching: Principles and Benefits. New Haven, CT: Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 634. 44 p
Ware, GW, McCollum, JP (1975) Onions. Producing Vegetable Crops. 2nd edn. Danville, IL: Interstate Printers & Publishers. Pp 359377
Wicks, GA, Johnston, DN, Nuland, DS, Kinbacher, EJ (1973) Competition between annual weeds and sweet Spanish onions. Weed Sci 21:436439
Wilcoxon, F (1945) Individual comparisons by ranking methods. Biometrics Bull 1:8083
Wilson, RS, Tucker, MA, Hooker, NH, Lejeune, JT, Doohan, D, Tucker, A, Hooker, H (2015) Perceptions and beliefs about weed management: perspectives of Ohio grain and produce farmers. Weed Technol 22:339350


Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Brown and Gallandt supplementary material
Figure S1

 Word (379 KB)
379 KB

A Systems Comparison of Contrasting Organic Weed Management Strategies

  • Bryan Brown (a1) and Eric R. Gallandt (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.